May 01, 2003
by Cris Italia
With each compliment, her cheeks flush red. She is embarrassed by her own fame, and clearly Heline Hines feels like she should just blend in with the rest of the crowd instead of being in the limelight with some of the greatest athletes in sports today.
I remember meeting Roberto Baggio, a legendary Italian soccer star, Mo Lewis of the New York Jets, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers, but nothing compared to meeting Heline Hines last month at the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The difference between Hines and those major-sports stars is that Hines has a disability, but you wouldn't know it from her attitude. After learning that she suffered from multiple sclerosis, Hines, a phys. ed. teacher, decided that she would run a couple of marathons just to keep her body moving. She said it felt good at the time, and it was therapeutic for her. Her unwillingness to give into her disability was an inspiration.
She says that there are days when it gets really tough, but that's when she pushes even harder. A few years ago, Hines lost the ability to run those marathons but found a way to participate: as a hand cyclist. Again her resiliency has come through. She has been dominant in the sport, winning the New York Marathon as well as other prestigious races.
"I'm beating male athletes. I think I'm gonna do this until I can't anymore," she says with great passion and a big grin on her face. With every word she oozes positive vibes. She's a woman who refuses to give in to something many others have succumbed to.
If anything, Hines says, the disability has made her stronger. It's brought her closer to her husband and infused her with passion for life -- and for her dog, Tyler, who helps her get around.
These days, Hines says, she can still stand and walk around, but her legs get tired. Even from her wheelchair she exudes energy, and at the Hall of Fame she was swarmed by fans, media and fellow athletes. Soccer star Sarah Whalen called her an inspiration to everyone, and she truly is.
What makes her even more incredible is her humility. Even with all the fanfare, the success and the honors, she still has a hard time believing that what she has achieved deserves all the attention she attracts.
Against all odds, Hines has become an icon. Whether she believes or it or not. We need to believe it, and we all need to keep the story of Hines in our minds, because we should all have same relentless drive and the seeming inability to give up that she has.
When I stood before Messier, Leetch and Baggio, I knew I was standing with some of the best athletes of my time. Talking to Hines, however, I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
© Herald Community 2003